THE quiet young Indonesian aircraft mechanic dashed out of his relatives’ home in a hurry in February and disappeared. The next time his anxious family would get word of him would be three months later, on the television news.
The authorities announced that the man, Yoki Pratama Windyarto, 21, was one of seven Indonesians who had joined the Islamic State and gone to the Philippines to fight on the island of Mindanao. His family had not even known that he had a passport.
And then, another shock: weeks later, his mother, Sri Eny Windarti, received an anonymous call saying that her son had been martyred, and got a text message with a picture of him lying dead on the battlefield, a pool of blood under his head.
“What caused him to go there is a big question for us,” she said. “We have no idea what happened to him.”
Yoki was one of about 30 foreign fighters recruited by IS operatives to join the battle against the Philippines government in Marawi, officials say. That fight, which has raged for months, has become the most intense military campaign the IS has supported outside Syria and Iraq.
The militants in Marawi opposed the government long before they announced loyalty to IS. But, in addition to the propaganda value of linking themselves to the militant group, recent evidence suggests that they have received financing and other assistance from the IS command.
Among those helping to recruit foreign fighters had been Indonesians who went to Syria, joined the IS and rose to leadership positions, said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a research organisation in Jakarta. Another who has taken a leading role in recruitment for the group is a former law lecturer from Malaysia who is part of the inner circle of militant leaders in Marawi, the authorities say.
Once Yoki arrived in the Philippines, he was told to recruit his jihadi friends to come to Mindanao for a “big party” in May.
“The Marawi operations received direct funding from IS central and reveal a chain of command that runs from Syria through the Philippines to Indonesia and beyond,” said a recent report by the institute.
The siege of Marawi began in May, when Philippine troops tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the IS leader in Southeast Asia, and stumbled upon hundreds of militants massing for an assault.
“Marawi is not strange for Indonesian jihadists,” said Ansyaad Mbai, former head of Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency.
“All Indonesian jihadists are familiar with this place.”
A leader of today’s Marawi militants, Omarkhayam Maute, is married to an Indonesian, Minhati Madrais, whose father is a conservative ulama. The couple met while studying in Egypt. For a time, Maute taught his radical views at his father-in-law’s Islamic school in Bekasi, east of Jakarta.
Today, the most prominent foreigner among the militants in the Philippines is Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian and one time Islamic law lecturer who fled to Mindanao in 2014.
A seized video of a strategy meeting before the battle shows him in the militants’ inner circle with Hapilon, Maute and Maute’s brother Abdullah, a fellow leader of the Maute group. The former lecturer is known among the militants there as Mahmud.
“Dr Mahmud appears to be senior to anyone operating in Indonesia, meaning whatever the intergroup frictions, all recognise a chain of command within the IS hierarchy that they are obliged to obey by virtue of their oath,” the report says.
Among those Mahmud helped bring to Marawi was Yoki.
Yoki grew up in a mostly Muslim neighbourhood in the central Java town of Purworejo Klampok, a tolerant community about 400km east of Jakarta. The family is doing well by local standards: his mother is an English teacher, his father a town official.
A few years ago, Yoki was accepted into a university. But, his parents said the cost was too high and sent him to the Indonesia Aviation School, a strict boarding school in Tangerang, west of Jakarta.
He began studying aviation maintenance there in 2013. At first, he was despondent. His head was shaved and he was not allowed to leave or talk to anyone by phone for three months. He graduated in September last year, shortly before his 21st birthday, and moved in with his uncle while waiting to start a job as a trainee at Garuda Indonesia, the state airline.
Yoki had always been devout. During his stay in Bekasi, he expressed conservative religious views to some family members, including the idea that women should not work outside the home.
Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said evidence indicated that he had been recruited by Islamists in person after he was allowed to leave campus.
Yoki was briefly ill in mid-February, and his mother went to Bekasi to care for him. Even then, she said, he gave no hint of his plan to leave.
But, after she left, he emptied his bank account, dropped out of the family WhatsApp group and sold his motorbike and laptop, she said. Then, on Feb 27, he made a quick visit to the house in Bekasi when only his aunt was home, retrieving a flash data drive before rushing off. He never spoke with a family member again.
On March 20, his parents, suspecting that he might have run off to join militants, filed a missing person’s report and asked the police to block him from leaving the country.
Even so, they said, they were shocked on May 31, when Indonesian police announced on national television that their son and six other Indonesians were wanted for involvement in terrorism in Marawi.